Journal of Commercial Biotechnology

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 293–300 | Cite as

Biotechnology commercialisation in universities of developing countries: A review of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria

  • Chimdiya Julian Onyeka


The British colonial administration established the University of Ibadan (UI) in 1948 as an extension of the University College London and it became Nigeria's first full-fledged and premier university in 1962.1 The university comprises 13 faculties and a distance learning programme. Among the university's faculties is one for Science, one for Technology and another for Agriculture and Forestry. These are in addition to the Research Centres which address specific societal needs. The institution boasts of over 20 000 students, 30 per cent of which are postgraduate.2

UI has the leading postgraduate school in Nigeria and has considered switching to mainly postgraduate programmes at a 6:4 ratio with undergraduate programmes. According to the institution, this decision is fuelled by:
  • Nigeria's growing need for a diversified economy emerging from biotechnology commercialisation, innovation and skilled human resources.

  • The need to offer refined doctorate and postgraduate managerial programmes for individuals who would manage this emerging diversified economy.

  • The university's laudable staff assets of over 290 Associate/Full professors, and over 250 Principal Lecturers.1

Despite these credentials, UI has however had limited impact on the Nigerian economy in the national drive to find alternative revenues and resources to oil. The university's position as Nigeria's foremost and premier institution remains largely underutilised in this national journey. According to the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), in Nigeria, 1237 technology agreements were registered between 1999 and 2010 (Table 1). The services (SER) sector had the highest number of agreements (570), while the Agro-Allied (AGRO) sector was least with 178 agreements. This solid mineral and chemical (SMC) sector had 256 agreements and the engineering (ENG) sector had 233 agreements.3
Table 1

Number of technology agreements registered per industrial sector in Nigeria (1999–2010)















































































Source: NOTAP.2

Interestingly, 761 out of the entire 1237 agreements were in the last five years. While this is indicative of a rising trend, these NOTAP figures do not indicate a biotechnology or related sector. Yet, the Nigerian government remains committed to its belief that the commercialisation of academic biotechnologies holds a spare key to Nigeria's present oil-driven economic growth. What then is the situation with the biotechnologies at Nigeria's premier university?

Current research structure at the University of Ibadan

Research at the university has been designed as a tool for the generation of knowledge and the training of personnel. Most research activities at UI are based on student-projects. Funding for individual research projects come from external agencies and from government research grants, which are administered by the university's Grant Committee under very competitive circumstances even though these awards are grossly inadequate. This has been an underlying problem of the university for several years. While the notion that the university should take the lead in offering postgraduate courses is supported by the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), there has yet to be any evidence of an accompanying increase in funding to support such a major drive. Postgraduate research is more demanding in time, depth and resources than undergraduate research especially in the areas of biotechnology commercialisation and innovation. In search of a solution, and in order to increase its relationship with industry the university turned to the MacArthur Foundation, established its Mission Research programme and instituted an MBA Entrepreneurship curriculum programme as a model for biotechnology commercialisation. This MBA programme features the crucial components for successful commercialisation such as a simple command chain.4 Considering Nigeria's extended history of military rule and dictatorship, a flat hierarchy and simple chain of command in any organisation is a rare occurrence. A simple command chain however makes for more effective administration. This component, among others has been identified as crucial for successful academic biotechnology commercialisation models around the world. Other components include a significant culture of entrepreneurship, significant research funding and customised biotechnology curricula.4 While the UI MBA does display a simple command chain, this on its own is insufficient to achieve successful commercialisation.

Relationship with the MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur Foundation has provided grants to the University of Ibadan in support of research and capacity building. These funds have been awarded to UI since 2002 as part of the Foundation's commitment to improving higher education in the Africa. Total awards so far exceed £7 million.1 These awards are tied to different targets in the UI research and commercialisation continuum. These targets include: investing in information technology infrastructure, expanding access to higher education by increasing admission figures to the distance learning programme, building a central multi-purpose laboratory for biotechnology research and enhancing research collaboration with other universities. The MacArthur Foundation grants have also been used to send UI faculty to foreign institutions for up to a year to allow them acquire international exposure and update their skills. Funding is also available to enable these staff to settle in upon their return and put into practice whatever they might have learned while abroad. In addition to these, UI has also established the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI). Interestingly, these grants allow the university a freedom of choice in terms of research areas and do not tie funding to specific research subjects. Its purpose is purely to strengthen multidisciplinary research capabilities.

Over 69 per cent of current discoveries and inventions are performed in industry with a mere 31 per cent at academic institutions.5 While several multinational companies profit from sales of their products and services in Nigeria, they have little or no commitment to local R&D in the country. Where there is any commitment at all, data are merely collected from Nigeria, and then sent to R&D posts abroad for analysis. Where this poses an external developmental problem for local research on the one hand, a lack of competitiveness among local companies poses an internal problem on the other. This lack of competitiveness stems from the fact that Nigerians tend to prefer foreign-made goods at the expense of local manufacturers and businesses.6 There exists a mindset that ‘foreign is better in quality’. This mindset has been a major problem for local business for several years, and has had a major impact on university-industry relations.

These challenges should be addressed via education and advocacy. University programmes should be revised to reflect the dynamism of and interrelation of society and industry. There should be a constant and continuous interaction between universities and local industries to reduce the widening gap between them described as the valley of death.7, 8 With interaction and induction, universities would better understand industry needs and work towards research that would be relevant to industry. If the local economy was one that supported and demanded locally made goods and services (bio products included), then UI would find itself faced with an array of local companies competing for the institution's R&D. This buttresses the need for the government to act as a catalyst for local content research preference and support. If this crucial support was secured, the Mac Arthur Foundation grants could in turn lead to a greater number of spin out companies from institutions like the University of Ibadan.

Achievements from MacArthur Foundation support

UI's biotechnology research strides have been mainly in the areas of food biotechnology and agricultural biotechnology. In the last decade, these have included:
  1. i)

    Research on processing cassava and cassava-derived products in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Federal Institute for Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO) and the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC).

  2. ii)

    The utilisation of crude press in the extraction of palm kernel oil.

  3. iii)

    Investigating the possibility of 10 per cent cassava flour in wheat flour for bakery products.

  4. iv)

    The utilisation of solar energy in drying and cooking.

  5. v)

    Investigating the possibility of 10 per cent cassava flour in wheat flour for bakery products.

  6. vi)

    Utilising imaging techniques for the purposes of quality inspection.

Limitations on the scope of patents significantly restrict innovation by hampering the ability of organisations to recover research and development costs.9 Intellectual property and patents are relatively uncharted terrain in Nigeria and as a result, there are significant constraints on the interaction between universities and industry. Other constraints include:
  • The ‘publish or perish’ attitude at educational institutions leading an indirect understanding that research is purely for academic promotion and not necessarily for the betterment of mankind.

  • Poor or non-existent infrastructure such as security, power supply and appropriate infrastructure.

  • Financial inability of local businesses to afford the services that they require.

  • Lack of adequate government funding of research.

  • Miscommunication/misunderstanding of faculty roles between stakeholders.

The mission research programme

The University of Ibadan conceived the idea of a mission research programme after receiving a proposal from one of its internal faculties for a MacArthur Foundation grant funding for a waste management research on Water Hyacinth in Nigeria. The proposal had envisaged a ‘waste-to-wealth’ challenge scenario for mankind in the twenty-first century. This phrase quickly caught on with the university grant committee who not only awarded funding for that particular research, but went on to adopt it as a university wide research programme cutting across all UI faculties. These subsequent ‘waste-to-wealth’ researches were multidisciplinary in nature and involved 80 per cent of the university's faculty split into 14 research projects with team leaders for each project. These projects had a 3-year duration and a total budget of approximately £256 000. The university was only able to meet 30 per cent of these costs with a research budget of approximately £92 000.10

The mission research programme has been able to deliver research output reports on 13 of the 14 projects mentioned above. Five of these have been patented by the University of Ibadan. There have also been 12 commercialisable biotechnologies including:
  • The development of 100 per cent single cell protein by isolating bacteria from cassava peels.

  • Development of a recycling machine for waste paper for utilisation by the cottage industry.

  • Development of nylon pellets from sachet water bags which could be recycled for further use.

  • Development of an electrical binding machine powered by waste fluid from cassava peels.

  • Development of a machine for the commercial production of fingerlings.11

These achievements clearly highlight the role of funding in successful commercialisation models. There needs to be a combination of crucial factors in order to progress on the commercialisation continuum. With a simple command chain already in place, monetary funding assumes a whole new and important dimension, resulting in successful outcomes as listed above. Nevertheless, the following are still sources of worry to such an initiative in a Nigerian environment:
  • Reluctance on the part of universities to publicise research findings.

  • A falling quality of education in Nigeria resulting from a mass exodus of Nigerian researchers abroad for greener pastures and migration of university faculty staff to more lucrative oil company employment.

  • Faculty staff viewing research as purely a means to academic promotion and not for the betterment of society and mankind.

  • Negative mindset of Nigerians towards locally made goods. There is a significant preference for foreign-made goods.

  • Viewing university education as a means to paid employment rather than a fundamental tool for the acquisition of requisite skills.

  • A total lack of commercialisation drive by Nigerian universities who would rather sit idly by waiting for government budgetary allocations for revenue generation.10

Overall, these achievements and obstacles feed into the drivers and blockers divide as described by Onyeka and Reid (Table 2). These factors are typical and face many academic institutions with biotechnology commercialisation intentions. Finding a balance between them would enable UI to take a significant lead in the Nigerian biotechnology commercialisation arena.
Table 2

Drivers and blockers of commercialisation



• The need for revenue generation

• Conflicts of Interests between faculty members and university administration

• The need to give back to host community

• Fundamental essence of a university being to educate and enlighten as opposed to the secrecy required for patents and IP

• Increased government funding

• Prolonged nature of clinical trials.

• Opportunities for research collaboration

• Claim to arising intellectual property.

• Legal protection to enable commercialisation of intellectual property

• Availability of infrastructure and skills

Source: Onyeka and Reid.4

Current university-industry relations at the University of Ibadan

Majority of the existing relationships between Nigerian universities and industry are in the form of the Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES). This also applies at the University of Ibadan. SIWES is a compulsory form of industrial attachment funded by the Industrial Training Fund for students in technology-related faculties and colleges in Nigerian universities. The scheme however does not cater to faculty staff or even to the logistical costs (travel, maintenance, and so on) of the students undergoing the scheme. As a result, the Faculty of Technology at UI designed a programme for its undergraduate Production Engineering students to undergo SIWES engagements at local garages and plants during their second year of studies, and then engage with more reputable organisations at the third and fourth years of their studies. This provided a more affordable route for the students. (Undergraduate degree courses in Nigeria are typically 4 years in duration). The university has also established an MBA entrepreneurship curriculum-based programme which enables postgraduate students to present business plans and proposals as part of their course work. These plans and proposals are assessed for viability and funding is then awarded as encouragement for starting up such companies. Such students also get to partake in the commercialisation events organised by the university's CEI Events.

With regards to associations between academic staff and industry, the university has entered into agreement with a number of local companies in order to encourage cross-collaboration, exchange programmes, sabbatical leave for researchers, provision and acquisition of machinery at moderate prices, endowment for research in dairy production and provision of consultancy services. Some of these industries include: West African Food Company (WAMCO), Vitalink Pharmaceuticals, IDEA Consults, Zinox and OMATEK Computers.

The university initially had all of its commercial units set up under the Centre for Resource Management and Consultancy (CEREMAC). CEREMAC functioned as a holding company. This concept suffered as UI was run under the aged belief that a university's business was teaching and educating for civil service jobs, and nothing to do with society. This view has gradually changed and CEREMAC has evolved into a limited liability company called UI Ventures.1

Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI)

The CEI is the university's avenue for dealing with collaboration with the private sector in matters of research, teaching, innovation and entrepreneurship. The university also uses CEI to maintain its relevance in the society. The establishment of CEI was approved by the university senate in 2008. In addition to organising the CEI Events described earlier involving postgraduate students and providing an avenue for interaction between local biotechnology experts and students for the successful commercialisation of biotechnologies, the Centre also contributes to the aims and objectives of government programmes such as the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and the New Partnership for Africa's development (NEPAD). CEI's focus on enhancing university-industry relations makes it central to the biotechnology commercialisation path of the University of Ibadan. The Centre's specific functions are listed as follows:
  • curriculum development in entrepreneurship and innovation;

  • coordinate teaching and research in entrepreneurship and innovation;

  • promotion of links with the private sector, through research networks, consultancy, training and building and alliances;

  • development of appropriate approaches to promote innovation among entrepreneurs, especially small businesses and students; and

  • development of detailed rules to promote links with the government, including creating appropriate legal and institutional frameworks to improve university-private sector cooperation in Nigeria.12

The Centre also keeps an inventory of UI's research activities, student projects and theses, with special attention to those with possibilities of commercial success. The intention is to help in the development of possible intellectual property and offering commercialisation assistance where needed. CEI operates the University of Ibadan Intellectual Property Policy which guides the processing of Intellectual Property developed by UI staff and/or students. In order to increase visibility, CEI has opened an office in Central Ibadan for increased visibility. The belief is that increased visibility leads to increased interaction with industry and by extension, higher rates of collaboration and relevance. If Nigerian universities aren’t visible and seen to be capable, industry would continue to head to other countries for R&D and the local economy, research and overall output of the local university would continue to suffer.13



Nigeria's University of Ibadan has had some early stage spin-of successes resulting from the university's relationship with local industry. These successes were mostly in the areas of food processing or agricultural biotechnology facilitation. A lot of these achievements were in the 1960s and in the 1970s. With a reduction in research funding during extensive years of military rule, came a diminished quality and dedication to research at most Nigerian universities and UI was not exempt. By the mid-1970s, the brain drain was well underway and the exodus of Nigerian academics had begun. Industry became unwilling to engage with the universities and UI was again not exempt from this wave. While the rate of exodus has reduced following return of civilian rule in 1999, the effects of those decades of military rule are still being felt at UI and other universities. However with new sources of research funding and increased commercialisation awareness, UI has been shown to stand a chance of contributing more to national development by the commercialisation of its academic biotechnologies.

Also noteworthy is that the current nature of university administration and governance poses some hindrances to successful biotechnology commercialisation. There is currently no stimulation or reward for productivity or risk taking. A lot of faculty still do not see biotechnology as having a business element, but as just an academic discipline requiring white lab coats and white overalls. The teaching of biotechnology could be made more attractive and business oriented. A good example is the introduction of business plan presentations in the CEI events at UI. This kind of interaction prepares students for a challenging commercial biotechnology career.


Funding plays a crucial role in university growth and commercialisation success. Government needs to increase funding to universities in order to better empower them to stand on their own and become able to commercialise their biotechnologies. It is one thing to have funding in place, and another to have funding that is meaningful and able to enable researchers achieve successes in the commercialisation continuum.

There also needs to be a look on policy with regards to locally manufactured goods and services. If people have a mindset which creates a preference for foreign-made goods at the detriment of the local alternatives, there will be no demand for the local industries and this in turn diminishes the need for the R&D activities at local universities. Governments can consider a modification of policy to accommodate local content in order to create a shift in the mindset of the population.


Managers need to open-up their companies to external knowledge sources in order to promote strategic renewal.14. Universities would benefit from constructive input from local industry and other institutions regarding industry needs so as to focus research on areas that might be of use and importance to local industries. Universities should also consider holding sessions with key players and stake holders in their local communities in order to find out what their needs are. Such interaction could enable universities channel their R&D activities in the right direction while bringing industrial attention to such needs, thereby creating a demand for their services.

In order for commercialisation models to be successful, the institution needs to be relatively small in size with a simple command chain, while engaging in world-class research.4 However, the presence of this element in a university's commercialisation model does not in itself guarantee success. There are other key components including R&D expertise, meaningful funding and a customised curriculum in the biological sciences. Universities need to give due consideration to the biotechnology commercialisation models that they choose to adopt. Where an institution considers adopting a curriculum programme model as the University of Ibadan has done, attention should be given to the size and command structure of such a set up.

Funding bodies

While it makes practical sense to tie grants and awards to specific objectives to allow for outcomes to be measured, it is useful to give universities a free hand when it comes to subject area as has been observed in the MacArthur Foundation and University of Ibadan relationship. Funding not tied to any particular research area gives universities the liberty to apply such funds to areas that it feels would best benefit its local environment, and make the institution more relevant to its host community.



The author acknowledges the support and guidance of Patrick M. Reid.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chimdiya Julian Onyeka
    • 1
  1. 1.Doctoral DivisionGreenwich School of ManagementGreenwichUK

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